Weekly Update #3 - Economics
Welcome to the third pre-launch weekly AtG update! Every Sunday afternoon a new article will go up, and each week will have its own theme. This past week our theme was economics, and you can also follow along with future (or past) daily updates on Twitter. You can also check out previous weekly updates here.
Each of the playable factions starts the game with one Settlement, which is roughly equivalent to a city in other 4X games. It can produce units by training Clans in new Professions, and it also happens to be the place all new Clans will arrive. But a big difference from other games is that you'll only ever have one. That's it. Whatever you want to build or do you have to do it one at a time. As such, what you spend this training time on is one of the most important strategic decisions you'll have to make while playing.
This makes the game a fair bit tougher to play than your average 4X, which are often mostly fire-and-forget, and allow (or force) you to speed through several turns without much of interest happening. AtG is very much the opposite. I've spent ten minutes thinking about a single production decision, and although I'm on the slow end of players no doubt it serves as a good example of what this game is all about.
An added bonus of this approach is that there's very little micromanagement. You won't be commanding hordes of dozens of cities or workers, all performing some small and mostly-irrelevant task that you need to constantly revisit.
The concept of having a "single, central economic hub" is something I actually borrowed from the old SSI strategy game Imperialism. It's not a model that works in every game though. If AtG spanned all of history there would be no way around the fact that sometimes you're producing tanks in one city and planes in another, and abstracting that down to a single production queue is something that is almost board game-level and not a great fit for most computer game players who want a bit more simulation to go with their chessboard.
The other big way AtG's Settlements are special compared with other games is that they can actually move around the map. And doing so is important, as you'll eventually want to start building Structures in order to harvest resources more efficiently, and this requires a tile to be within your borders - and thus relatively close to your Settlement.
Moving around is also forced on you a bit by the game, as eventually resource deposits will become exhausted and you'll have to find new ones. Eventually you'll be able to build permanent structures out of stone, but this isn't something that will be possible until the midgame.
Another major concern in the early game is keeping your clans fed. You start off with a small stockpile of food, but this will run out by the end of the coming winter, so you have to start collecting more relatively quickly. Food can be harvested from several sources, and initially you'll be doing so with the help of Clans trained in Foraging Professions like Gatherer and Digger. These units can collect resources from anywhere on the map and identify new deposits, making them quite flexible, but their overall output is less than more advanced Timber and Stone-based structures, which you'll want to start bringing online once you have a nice little economy set up.
In AtG you want to specialize your economy, as it takes quite an investment to get things rolling, and spreading your tribe too thin means limiting your overall potential. Training a Blacksmith or Weaponsmith early is a common strategy, as this will allow you to start producing the all-important Tools and/or Weapons you'll need a lot of in the early game in order to develop/fight your way into a stronger position. Without iron though you're going to have to pursue a different strategy, but thankfully there are quite a few to choose from. Every game I play I find myself doing something a little bit new, which is really cool from a game I've played so much.
Just because you lack Iron nearby doesn't mean you can't get Tools or Weapons though, as three times per year a caravan will show up, allowing you to trade resources you have for those you need. This makes the caravan essential in most games, and you'll likely want to spend a fair bit of your money upgrading it to provide more and better resources. Caravans don't make a visit during the winter though, so you have to make sure you have things squared away by autumn, as it's going to be 6 months before any future help will be coming.
Founding a Kingdom
Once you've developed your economy it will be time to start thinking about Founding a Kingdom. This permanently fixes your Settlement in-place, which is a pretty big deal, but in exchange you'll receive a great deal of extra Fame and your borders will grow significantly. So it's a nice boost in the mid-game when you might otherwise have trouble stretching your clans or your control and have a place in-mind you want to stick around.
This is also around the time you'll be transitioning your economy over to advanced Stone-based structures. These versions last forever, so once you have one online you never need to worry about it running out and needing to completely reconsider what your future economic strategy will be. Furthermore, you can also supplement Stone structures with Apprentices, which allows you to greatly increase their production. By the end of the game you'll have built up an immensely-powerful, but hard-earned economic machine.
I'm really excited for this upcoming week, as both the daily Twitter updates and the capstone article next Sunday will explain how AtG has embraced asymmetry down to its very core, something that really helps separate it from nearly all other 4X strategy games.
You can follow along throughout the week on Twitter, or check back here next week for a new article.